Tom and Jerry: Defenders of All Things Right and Good

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Pope Favors Greater Role for Women, But Not Priesthood

ZENIT reports Pope Benedict's comments during a meeting with priests in Rome. The Pope emphasized only men can be ordained priests, but he favors a greater role for women in the governence of the Church. He reminds us of great saints who have had significant influence in the story of Catholicism, "women do much, I would dare to say, for the governance of the Church, beginning with the sisters of the great Fathers of the Church, such as St. Ambrose, to the great women of the Middle Ages -- St. Hildegard, St. Catherine of Siena -- and later St. Teresa of Avila up to Mother Teresa." Let’s not forget the Church's greatest saint is a woman.

Unfortunately, some Catholics will not be satisfied until the priesthood is open to women. A friend of my told me the church "devalues" women because it does not give them roles of leadership equal to men. This belief is too common.

I can offer the Church's sound theological reasons for an all-male priesthood. Unfortunately, those arguments tend to be unconvincing to those who feel oppressed. Those who feel powerless naturally want to seek power. Let me propose this. We need not look at Holy Orders as a call to power. True, one of a bishop's roles is to govern, but ordination is primarily a call to service. Anyone who desires to be a priest should do so out of a desire to serve God's people, and should be willing to serve in any way God wills. Everyone in the Church should look out for their neighbor. In a community governed by charity, no one should feel powerless. Indeed power should be unnecessary. Granted, we will not see that in its fullness until Christ comes again, but we should try our best.


  • Other Christian faiths (and the Jewish faith, for that matter) seem to manage just fine with married and female clergy. Given that, I wonder why the powers that be think that the Catholic church will go to hell in a handbasket if married or female clergy are ordained. Why should its clergy have significantly different problems/issues to address than those of other faiths??

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Friday, March 10, 2006 5:23:00 PM  

  • Your comment has motivated me to do some research on the subject. I'll post something about that later, but let me give you my gut reaction. Let me begin be stating I have a limited grasp of the theology of priesthood. I know just enough to be dangerous. Here is the first perilous step.

    Theses other religions have managed to ordain women because (with the possible exception of some Anglican) have a much different understanding of the nature of a priest.

    It is worth noting, the Church believes the nature of the priesthood is ordained by God. Dan Brown's fiction notwithstanding, the all-male priesthood is not an innovation of the Church, but a long standing tradition that was instituted by Christ at the last supper. words of Pope John Paul II, "the Church has no authority whatsoever” to change it. That being said, God’s will is easier to follow if we have some theological understanding His reasons.

    I don't particularly like the fact women are excluded from the ministerial priesthood. Women possess the talent to be great preachers, teachers, counselors, founders, spiritual directors, leaders and ministers of the Gospel. Other churches have recognized these talents and have ordained women into their clerical ministry. If talent and willingness were the only requirements for the Catholic priesthood, then there is no reason women shouldn’t be ordained.

    But for a Catholic, priesthood is something more. A Catholic priest acts in persona Chrisit at the altar. When he pronounces the words, "This is my body...this is my blood," Jesus saying those words. Scott Hahn says Jesus borrows the priest's hands and vocal chords. The priest, in a physical way represents, Christ to the church. Christ is a man. Biblical imagery calls Christ the bridegroom and the Church the bride. A woman cannot be a bridegroom any more than a man can be a bride or a mother. One may not like that, but that is how God made things.

    That is not to say women cannot represent Christ to the world. One only need turn to the lives of the Saints to see Christ’s presence in thousands of women throughout history. But, the unique metaphysical way a priest represents Christ demands he be a man.

    This is hardly an adequate explanation, I know. I will do more research. But in the interim, I trust in the 2000 year old Tradition of the Church.

    By Blogger Tom, at Sunday, March 12, 2006 8:24:00 AM  

  • You're right to put the emphasis on divine initiative, Tom. The reservation of priestly ordination to men does not arise from any belief of inequality between men and women as though women were somehow incapable of carrying out priestly functions. I have no doubt that many women could preach, teach, show compassion, lead people to holiness, etc. better than I and many of my brother priests are doing now.

    Such a comparison is not the issue. The issue, rather, is living out the priesthood established by Jesus Christ through the Apostles and passed on through the centuries. Through baptism, a person is conformed to Christ and participates in the common priesthood of Christ. From among the baptized, some are ordered (or ordained) to a role of service which is a participation in the ministerial priesthood of Christ. As Vatican Council II taught clearly, the ministerial priesthood is distinct from the common priesthood in essence not merely degree. (although both are part of the one priesthood of Christ)

    The Catholic Church believes that she is governed by Divine Revelation, not the governor over it. Divine Revelation includes not only Scripture but also Tradition. Since the Church did not ordain women in even the earliest centuries, we see a point of Tradition which re-inforces and helps us to understand Scripture here.

    This issue is complicated by the centuries of sexual inequality from which we are (possibly still) recovering and from a clericalism which saw the laity's role as PPO: "pray, pay, and obey." If we truly understand the dignity of women and of non-ordained vocations, we would have less difficulty understanding the male priesthood. On the day of my ordination, I did not become a greater or holier person, even if my own holiness and personal following of Christ are now forever tied to my participation in Christ's ministerial priesthood.

    As for married priests, this is actually a separate issue inasmuch as there are already married Catholic priests and there were several in the earliest centuries of the Church. Restricting ordination in the Latin (aka Roman or Western) Rite of the Catholic Church to celibate men is a discipline of the Church. Celibacy has long been lauded, even when married men could be ordained to the priesthood. Theoretically, though, the pope could decide to ordain married men more frequently than happens now (although there are good spiritual and other reasons to retain the discipline of the celibate priesthood).

    Most Protestant denominations do not see priesthood (or episcopacy or diaconate, for that matter) as a specific order within the Church/organizational structure. Or, if they do, they do not see it in the same connection to the priesthood of Christ and part of Revelation. Most see their ministers as good servants called to lead a community and bring them closer to Christ, and many do a wonderful job of that. But they certainly don't speak of Apostolic Succession.

    A (male) Protestant minister asked me a few years ago whether I'd be able to work with female clergy in ecumenical/interfaith issues since the Catholic Church does not ordain women. I had a hard time understanding the question. Of course, I would have no problem there. If Catholicism had a Lutheran, Presbyterian, or Methodist understanding of priesthood, there would be female Catholic priests alongside the male priests.

    Anyway, all this is a long way of affirming that the differences lie not in practical functioning or "getting along just fine" but in belief about what the priesthood is by essence (and not merely by historical circumstance).

    By Anonymous fr. jason, at Monday, March 13, 2006 3:53:00 PM  

  • I would also note that those faiths that ordain women are not doing fine. All of those that do have declining membership.

    When I first heard that at some Evangelical conference, I wanted to brush it off as radical Evangelical rhetoric. But it's true: Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians are all facing a crisis of membership. Baptists and Catholics, who firmly believe in an all male clergy, are not.

    I hate to say it, but that has to mean something....

    By Anonymous Diane, at Tuesday, March 14, 2006 10:51:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home